‘Lost Crops’ provide lifeline for Maphisa farmers

Smallholder farmers in St Anna Village in Maphisa, Matobo district have turned to drought-resistant crops as the drought continues to ravage the Matabeleland South province.  

Matabeleland South is classified as a Region 5 zone, receiving less than 650 millimetres of rain on average annually, a situation that has resulted in poor yields.

But at St Anna Village, the villagers have dumped maize crops opting to focus their energies on growing a variety of “lost crops,” that are drought tolerant and do well in dry areas.

More importantly, most of the farmers are women farmers, who have become self-sufficient from improved harvests.

Showcasing their produce at the 2019 Seed and Traditional Food Fair held at St Anna Village on Thursday, the farmers confirmed they have improved harvests by planting drought-tolerant crops complemented by conservation agriculture.

Running under the theme, Promoting lost crop varieties and traditional foods, the event was organised by Dabane Trust working with other partners such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Agricultural Technical and Extension Services AGRITEX.  

One of the exhibitors, Amanda Ncube (54) from Sihayi Village in Ward 9 told CITE that planting indigenous crops had turned out to be a worthwhile investment for her family.

“Crops such as sorghum have multiple uses in a household, from food for consumption to using as animal feed plus other services. Besides sorghum, I also grow other crops such as Millet, Rapoko, groundnuts such as izambane elimhlophe and congo. It is from these crops that I have managed to take care and feed my family including my seven grandchildren,” she said.

Sibikwaphi Lorraine Sibanda (44) added that as a female farmer she was now aware of how conservation agriculture was good for agronomic management practices, including planting drought-tolerant crops and its adapted varieties.

“If you prioritise your crops, you are guaranteed of a better yield, which means more to feed on. Which is why we are proud as a community to have our seed bank, where we store seeds in order to preserve indigenous crops and improve on post-harvest storage,” she said.

Project officer from Dabane Trust, Shepherd Moyo, said it was pleasing that the community had easily adopted the use of indigenous crops since St Anna only received rain three times a year.

“In such dryness, these crops produce more yields than hybrids. I am also pleased to note that the community has a seed bank to store supplies. At the end of the day we know families here will not starve but eat nutritious meals,” he noted.

Also at the seed fair, were representatives from the National Gene Bank, which tests farming seeds and certifies them before distribution to farmers across the country.

The National Gene Bank is an arm under the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlement.

Research Technician, Esnath Chisveto, said the Gene Bank’s mandate was to preserve indigenous crops and conduct farmer training programmes.

“We trained farmers here two years ago. At our facility we have a lot of crop varieties so I urge you to submit requests for the crops you need then we look for them, then farmers here can multiply it in your farms,” she urged.

In the same vein, the research technician also encouraged the community to back up whatever crop variety they had, as the Gene Bank would also send samples to the regional SADC bank in Zambia while Zambia would also send samples to the World Gene Bank.

Maphisa District Nutritionist, Isiah Sibanda, said that his office prioritised the use of Neglected Underutilised Species (NUS).

“These are indigenous crops that people must eat and rely on. Food from such crops improve skin elasticity, its glow, bones become stronger, hair grows, eyes see clearer and one becomes energetic. There is no need for one to travel to India to seek medication when one eats healthily.

“Even in our homes, women complain that men perform weak sexually, yet that emanates from the food women prepare. Meals should contain traditional meals such as amaranth, rapoko, sorghum and millet,” he said.

The nutritionist cited that the problem in society was their attitude to traditional foods, as people shunned indigenous products.

“Out of 100 people, 85 percent are sick suffering from high Blood Pressure and Sugar Diabetes,” he claimed

Sibanda urged communities to shun laziness but work in fields and stop their negative attitude.

“For instance, take okra, it has a nutrient call iodine – an element needed for the brain to function properly. Zimbabwe started fortifying iodine in 1982 as products lacked iodine. This is why we have iodised salt but sometimes if you test amount of iodine from salt packaged by big brands, the iodine is little yet we have okra that people do not eat,” he said.

The nutritionist also appealed developmental partners to assist communities with a processor and packaging material, which they could use for their harvest.

“If more processors are available and packaging options, the price of sorghum, millet or raphoko may go down. It is impractical to find a 5kg bag of sorghum costing more than a 10 kg bag of white mealie meal,” Sibanda highlighted.

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